The second day of former President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial was dominated by a detailed and damning documentation of the events leading up to the January 6 riot at the US Capitol by the House impeachment managers.
For hours on Wednesday afternoon, a series of Democratic House members – from Colorado’s Joe Neguse to Texas’ Joaquin Castro – laid out the tweets and public comments from Trump that laid the foundation for the Big Lie that culminated in the violent overrunning of the Capitol on January 6.
I watched the proceedings – and took notes on what mattered most. My takeaways are below.
1. Trump is his own worst enemy: Yes, the House impeachment managers did a good job of making their case. But in truth, Trump himself did a lot of the work for them. His tweets. His speeches. His media interviews. There was just so much of it. And time after time, Trump left nothing to the imagination. He said the election was rigged. He told his supporters that they were going to have to fight like hell to keep hold of democracy. He refused to agree to the peaceful handover of power if he lost. Over and over again. And the House managers just poured Trump’s own words and tweets into the lap of every single senator sitting in the chamber. All of that evidence directly from Trump’s mouth – and keyboard-typing fingers – makes it hard for any Republican to suggest that this is purely a partisan political proceeding without any “there” there. This wasn’t the House impeachment managers putting words in Trump’s mouth. This was just him – talking and tweeting and talking some more.
2. Liz Cheney: A week after the Wyoming Republican survived a challenge to her leadership slot in the House GOP, her words in explaining why she was voting to impeach Trump were used, again, by Democrats to make the case for why he needed to be convicted. “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Neguse in summarizing what Trump had done – a direct quotation from Cheney’s statement of January 12. Neguse wrapping Cheney’s statement like an anchor around the waists of every single Republican senator is what the likes of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California feared most following the House impeachment. Cheney’s vote was one thing. Her statement – particularly the line that Neguse quoted – was, for many Republicans, something entirely different because they felt it would allow Democrats to bash every single Republican member with it. And they were right.
3. Trump supporters took him literally: Remember the now-pointless debate in the early days of Trump’s presidency about whether he should be taken seriously or literally – and whether his supporters took him as one or the other? On Wednesday, the House impeachment managers made an airtight case that Trump’s most ardent backers always took what he said literally. They believed him when he said the election was going to be rigged. They believed him when he attacked the vote in Michigan. And they took him at his word when he told them on January 6 they needed to fight to save democracy. How do I know they believed him? Because the impeachment managers showed footage of Trump supporters in Maricopa County demanding the vote count be stopped. And footage of Trump backers outside of Michigan secretary of state’s house chanting “stop the steal.” And of those who participated in the January 6 riot insisting they were acting on the orders of their President. “His commands led to their actions,” Castro said at one point, referring to Trump and the January 6 rioters.
4. Connecting the dots: One of the key debates in this trial is whether the people who rioted at the Capitol on January 6 were doing so at Trump’s request or whether they were simply bad actors who had decided to make trouble during the electoral vote certification before Trump said a word at the “Stop the Steal” rally that day. Trump defenders are quick to note that some of the rioters had already made their way down to the Capitol complex before Trump had even started speaking – and that the planning for the insurrection had begun long before January 6. But what the managers did on Wednesday is show that this wasn’t about just January 6. They went all the way back to a mid-June 2020 Trump interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace in which the President refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost – and then carefully walked senators through the myriad times between then and January 6 in which Trump lied about everything from mail-in balloting to the vote count in swing states to his chances of winning. This wasn’t a one-off. This was the result of months of Trump priming the pump, lying to his supporters about the election and its outcome. January 6 was the culmination of all of those lies, not the starting point.
5. Josh Hawley plays the villain: Ever since announcing in late 2020 that he would formally object to the Electoral College count in several states, the Missouri Republican senator has stood at the forefront of the effort to court the Trump vote in anticipation of a run for president in his own right in 2024. And he has repeatedly demonstrated that he believes the best way to emerge as the Trump heir is to troll Democrats – and the media – as hard as possible. So, it’s not terribly surprising, then, that Hawley was spotted by NBC’s Garrett Haake during Neguse’s opening presentation “sitting up in the gallery with his feet up on the seat in front of him, reviewing paperwork, throughout.” Hawley told CNN’s Manu Raju that he was sitting in the upper Senate gallery because he was “very interested” in the trial – adding, “Well I’ve got the trial briefs with me, and taking notes.” Uh huh.